Monday, 2 December 2019

Beyond The Woods - Film Review

What: Beyond The Woods
When: 29 November 2019
Where: Classic Cinemas, Elsternwick
Written and directed by: Brayden DeMorest-Purdy
Featuring: Christie Burke, Jeff Evans-Todd, Broadus Mattison, and Steven Roberts
Steven Roberts
 In film making there is a mandate to 'show, don't tell' and Beyond The Woods takes this mantra to heart. Coming in at just under 2 hours, this Canadian thriller brings looming landscapes with dialogue as sparse as the pine trees buried under the snow.

The story takes the standard structure of a detective (Mattison) interviewing a suspect, Adam (Roberts), about the disappearance of Jack (Evans-Todd). Time shifts regularly between recent past, a slightly more distant past and the present. The icy cold of the snowy mountains casts a pall of lethargy over the insinuated seething passions of the community itself.

This film works with a slow dramaturgy and most of the shots involve the men sharing their space but mostly in contemplation. It is offset by random explosions of great emotion which then settle back into a pensive musing. As well as the time shifts, there are also reality shifts as Jack swings between reality and delusion as he finds himself in a nightmare he cannot escape.

Adam lives on a remote, seemingly abandoned, ranch of some sort with his wife, Laura (Burke). Laura disappeared and conclusions were drawn that she killed herself because she had pre-existing mental health issues. Jack joins Adam at the ranch to attend the funeral. He thanks Adam for all the love and support and comfort he has provided for Laura and the family as a whole.

Meanwhile, Adam has been cleaning out Laura's belongings and there is a big fire pit in the yard where things have been burnt. In a lonely moment of grief Jack stands contemplating the ashes and accidently makes some gruesome discoveries. At this point I would leave the property and go to the police. Jack, on the other hand, decides to confront Adam. The rest, as they say, is history.

Suffice to say, Jack doesn't turn up for the funeral and the police get curious. Perhaps the most unexpected aspect of the film is Adam's reluctance to kill. This is what brings it a step outside the standard tropes for this kind of film. In many ways, Adam finds himself in situations he can't figure out how to get out of just as much as Jack does.

I really did like Beyond The Woods but in the end I feel it is too long and too slow. For the amount of time it took to tell the story I would have liked more DeMorest-Purdy to provide character development of other characters, not just Adam and Jack. More about Laura to tell us why people would be okay with the suicide story. More about why Adam didn't just call the police in the first place. More about why the detective gets so emotionally unbalanced in the interrogation.

Having said that, the cinematography is grand and there is always something powerful in juxtaposing small, fragile humans against large and looming mountain tops. A really effective device was the use of smoking. Endless puffs of smoke emitting from Adam's mouth replicate the warmth needed to keep man alive in a countryside devoured by snow fall.

I also loved the framing of these shots. The cigarette smoke became so visceral because of the extreme front on close ups of each puff. Even though the film is not 3D I really did feel as if I could smell and feel the smoke in the air of the cinema. This use of extreme close ups also had the effect of making us co-conspirators in certain moments, such as when Adam drags Jack up a snowy bank. It feels as if Jack is being torn away from us and we become helpless spectators in what ensues next.

There is some bad steady cam work and a few little continuity problems, such as a vase in the loungeroom which is smashed by Adam in a fit of rage and frustration and confusion, but then is whole later when the detective inspects the room. These aren't big problems though, and the colour grading of the film works well to give it a slightly aged air. For some reason it is set in 1993 although I don't really know why.

Beyond The Woods is not too bad. It is just a bit too long and slow and could use more character development to help us care a bit more and get a bit more invested. The acting is pretty good, and the cast do well with a script which doesn't give them a lot of layers to develop.

3.5 Stars

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